March 8, 2022 Russia-Ukraine news

By Aditi Sangal, Adrienne Vogt, Meg Wagner, Jessie Yeung, Steve George, Sana Noor Haq, George Ramsay, Ed Upright, Amir Vera and Maureen Chowdhury, CNN

Updated 12:00 a.m. ET, March 9, 2022
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8:30 a.m. ET, March 8, 2022

Outflow of refugees from Ukraine reaches 2 million, says UN refugee chief

From CNN's Niamh Kennedy

Refugees fleeing Ukraine arrive at the border train station of Zahony on March 8 in Zahony, Hungary. More than 2 million refugees have fled Ukraine since the start of Russia's military offensive, according to the UN.
Refugees fleeing Ukraine arrive at the border train station of Zahony on March 8 in Zahony, Hungary. More than 2 million refugees have fled Ukraine since the start of Russia's military offensive, according to the UN. (Christopher Furlong/Getty Images)

The outflow of refugees from Ukraine has reached two million, according to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi.

Speaking to French radio station France Inter on Tuesday, Grandi called the milestone a "terrifying" number.

"There are hundreds of thousands of people on the move, trying to flee the combat zone and seek refuge firstly inside Ukraine in the safe zones. But the safe space is reducing and people are inevitably trying to cross borders," he said

Nearly all the refugees are women, children, and elderly people, according to Grandi, who said he hadn't seen such a preponderance in his entire career.

"It's a very specified population. It's significant that on International Women's Day, men make war and women pay the consequences," Grandi continued.

He said most of the refugees have traveled to Poland, Moldova, and other neighboring countries, adding most move towards "where they have connections, family."

"What we fear is a second wave of persons who have a good deal less resources and connections and who will be much more vulnerable," Grandi warned.

Romania has taken in 281,000 refugees since the start of the conflict in Ukraine, the Romanian Border Police told CNN on Tuesday, although 208,000 of those have already departed the country.

The border police did not specify where the refugees were going after leaving Romania.

Watch more:

CNN's Miguel Marquez in Bucharest contributed reporting to this post.

7:42 a.m. ET, March 8, 2022

Russian Orthodox Church alleges gay pride parades were part of the reason for Ukraine war

From CNNs Delia Gallagher in Rome

Russian Patriarch Kirill celebrates a Christmas service at the Christ the Savior cathedral in Moscow, Russia, on January 6.
Russian Patriarch Kirill celebrates a Christmas service at the Christ the Savior cathedral in Moscow, Russia, on January 6. (Kirill Kudryavtsey/AFP/Getty Images)

The leader of the Russian Orthodox Church said gay pride parades were part of the reason for the war in Ukraine.

Patriarch Kirill of Moscow, a long-time ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin, said on Sunday that the conflict in Donbas is about “a fundamental rejection of the so-called values that are offered today by those who claim world power.”

The “test” of which side you are on, said Kirill, is whether your country is willing to hold gay pride parades.

“In order to enter the club of those countries, it is necessary to hold a gay pride parade. Not to make a political statement, ‘we are with you,’ not to sign any agreements, but to hold a gay parade. And we know how people resist these demands and how this resistance is suppressed by force,” Kirill said during a sermon in Moscow.

Kirill categorized the war as a struggle of “metaphysical significance,” for humanity to follow God’s laws.

“What is happening today in the sphere of international relations has not only political significance. We are talking about something different and much more important than politics. We are talking about human salvation,” he said. 

“If we see violations of [God’s] law, we will never put up with those who destroy this law, blurring the line between holiness and sin, and even more so with those who promote sin as an example or as one of the models of human behavior,” Kirill said.

“Around this topic today there is a real war,” he said.

Patriarch Kirill is a major religious figure in Russia, where the Russian Orthodox religion is considered an integral part of Russian identity. He has come under pressure from within his own church since the beginning of the war to denounce Putin’s aggression, but his public statements so far have failed to do that. On the contrary, Kirill’s language has lent support to Putin’s vision of a spiritual and temporal Russian empire.

7:30 a.m. ET, March 8, 2022

Shell to stop buying Russian crude oil and close gas stations across the country

From CNN's Chris Liakos

Shell said on Tuesday it intends to stop purchasing Russian crude oil and plans to completely withdraw from the Russian energy industry.

The energy giant says it plans “to withdraw from its involvement in all Russian hydrocarbons, including crude oil, petroleum products, gas and liquefied natural gas (LNG) in a phased manner, aligned with new government guidance.”

It added in a press release that as an immediate first step it will stop all spot purchases of Russian crude oil and will shut “its service stations, aviation fuels and lubricants operations in Russia.”

“We are acutely aware that our decision last week to purchase a cargo of Russian crude oil to be refined into products like petrol and diesel – despite being made with security of supplies at the forefront of our thinking – was not the right one and we are sorry," said Shell Chief Executive Officer Ben van Beurden. 

"As we have already said, we will commit profits from the limited, remaining amounts of Russian oil we will process to a dedicated fund. We will work with aid partners and humanitarian agencies over the coming days and weeks to determine where the monies from this fund are best placed to alleviate the terrible consequences that this war is having on the people of Ukraine."

Van Beurden added that “threats today to stop pipeline flows to Europe further illustrate the difficult choices and potential consequences we face as we try to do this.”

Shell last week said it will exit its equity partnerships with Russian state energy giant Gazprom in light of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

The news comes a day after British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said coordinated energy sanctions against Moscow, including a ban on Russian oil, are still "very much on the table."

Speaking during a Monday news conference alongside his Dutch and Canadian counterparts in London, Johnson said it was the "right thing" to move away from Russian hydrocarbons.  

On Sunday, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken told CNN's Jake Tapper that the United States is “now talking to our European allies and partners to look at a coordinated way” to ban Russian oil. 

Responding to a question as to whether Blinken was wrong in his remarks, Johnson replied, "No, I don't think Tony Blinken was wrong."  

Countries need to consider how to move away from Russian hydrocarbons "as fast as possible," Johnson added.  

Johnson continued, "We're going to work together on making sure that we all have the substitutes and the supplies that we need."

6:47 a.m. ET, March 8, 2022

21 civilians were killed in Sumy strike, say Ukrainian authorities

From Tim Lister in Kyiv and Olga Voitovych

The death toll from an overnight strike in the northeastern Ukrainian city of Sumy has now risen to 21 civilians, according to the Regional Prosecutor's Office.

The office confirmed "the death of 19 adults and 2 children as a result of an air strike in the city."

"As a result of the bombing, one house was completely destroyed, 16 were partially destroyed. As of 7:00, the bodies of 21 people, including 2 children, were found during an inspection," it added.

Ukraine and Russia agreed Tuesday to one evacuation corridor in Sumy, which has seen sustained Russian attacks and airstrikes in recent days.

9:06 a.m. ET, March 8, 2022

All Indian students evacuated from Ukrainian city of Sumy 

From CNN's Esha Mitra and Swati Gupta in New Delhi 

Around 700 Indian students stuck in the northeastern Ukrainian city of Sumy are en route to the town of Poltava, around 108 miles away, according to the Indian Ministry of External Affairs.

The news comes as Ukraine and Russia agreed Tuesday to one evacuation corridor in Sumy, which has seen sustained Russian attacks and airstrikes in recent days.

“Happy to inform that we have been able to move out all Indian students from Sumy. They are currently en route to Poltava, from where they will board trains to western Ukraine,” ministry spokesperson Arindam Bagchi tweeted Tuesday evening local time, adding that flights were being prepared to repatriate them.

The news comes as Ukraine and Russia agreed Tuesday to one evacuation corridor in Sumy, which has seen sustained Russian attacks and airstrikes in recent days.

The announcement of an evacuation corridor in Sumy comes after a Russian airstrike on an apartment building in the city killed nine civilians, including two children, according to the State Emergency Services (SES) in Ukraine.

“694 Indian students were remaining in Sumy last night, all have now left for Poltava (Ukraine) in buses,” Press Trust of India, a news agency owned by multiple Indian newspapers, tweeted Tuesday citing Hardeep Singh Puri, an Indian cabinet minister.

Earlier Monday, the Indian embassy had attempted to evacuate students in buses, however the efforts were suspended after Russian airstrikes continued to hit evacuation corridors. 

The embassy also said Tuesday that 75 Indian sailors stranded in Mykolaiv Port had been evacuated.

8:26 a.m. ET, March 8, 2022

UK warns Poland that sending fighters to Ukraine may put them into Russia's "direct line of fire"

From CNN's Niamh Kennedy in London

(Cuneyt Karadag/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
(Cuneyt Karadag/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)

The United Kingdom has warned Poland that sending fighter jets to Ukraine may put them into the "direct line of fire" from Russia. 

Defense Secretary Ben Wallace told Sky News on Tuesday that whilst the UK would "support" a Polish choice to supply Ukraine with fighter jets the country should be aware of Russia's warning of "retribution." 

The news comes a day after the US Ambassador to NATO Julianne Smith told CNN Chief International Anchor Christiane Amanpour that US officials are discussing with the Polish government the potential for Poland to send MiG-29 Soviet-era fighter jets in support of Ukraine. Smith emphasized that this is a "sovereign decision" for Poland take. 

"Poland borders a number of countries such as Belarus, that is an active participant with Russia. And Poland will understand that the choices are not only directly helping Ukraine, which is a good thing, but also may bring them into direct line of fire from countries such as Russia or Belarus," Wallace said. 

He added that it wasn't for him to "second guess" Poland's choice, remarking that there is a "really big responsibility on the shoulders of the President of Poland and the defense minister."

"It is for me as a fellow NATO member to say that we will support Poland and whatever choice she makes," Wallace concluded.

So far, NATO has remained firm in its unwillingness to get directly involved in the conflict beyond supporting Ukraine's resistance to an invasion that is killing innocent civilians, while US officials have made clear that American troops won't engage directly with Russian forces.

Both parties on Friday also pushed back against calls for a no-fly zone to be set up in Ukraine, warning that it could lead to a "full-fledged war in Europe" and saying they're doing what they can to help Ukraine defend itself against Russia's invasion.

CNN's Jeremy Herb and Paul LeBlanc contributed reporting to this post.

6:17 a.m. ET, March 8, 2022

Ukraine’s athletes dedicate medals to "each and every Ukrainian" as Winter Paralympic gold rush continues

From CNN’s Aleks Klosok in London

(From left to right) Silver medalist Oleksandra Kononova, gold medalist Iryna Bui and bronze medalist Liudmyla Liashenko of Team Ukraine at the Beijing 2022 Winter Paralympics on March 8 in Zhangjiakou, China.
(From left to right) Silver medalist Oleksandra Kononova, gold medalist Iryna Bui and bronze medalist Liudmyla Liashenko of Team Ukraine at the Beijing 2022 Winter Paralympics on March 8 in Zhangjiakou, China. (Michael Steele/Getty Images)

Ukrainian athletes showed support for their compatriots at the 2022 Winter Paralympics in Beijing amid the ongoing Russian invasion of Ukraine, after securing a clean sweep of medals in two more para biathlon events at the games on Tuesday.

Iryna Bui led the first Ukrainian podium sweep of the day in the women's middle distance standing, with Oleksandra Kononova and Liudmyla Liashenko earning silver and bronze, respectively.

"I was preparing for this special moment for 12 years. It was my aim and I've been training really hard all of this time," Bui said of winning her first Paralympic medal at her third Games.

"But I came here with another thought. The whole world knows what's going on in Ukraine at the moment and now I know that I have a mission here I represent the whole country. The whole country is behind me and with this medal I will just one more time promote the Ukrainian nation."

"We would like to dedicate our results and medals to each and every Ukrainian and all the soldiers in the Ukrainian army who protect us. With our performance we represent the whole country and this is our battle, here," she added.

And yet another Ukraine podium sweep was to follow just a few hours later in the men’s middle distance vision impaired.

Vitaliy Lukyanenko won comfortably and in the process secured the eighth Paralympic gold medal of his career, with Anatoliy Kovalevskyi and Dmytro Suiarko crossing the line to win silver and bronze, respectively. 

At 43-years-old, Lukyanenko becomes the most successful male biathlete of all-time.

"First of all, I would like to congratulate our beloved women on International Women's Day. I want to wish them a peaceful sky over their heads, and to be happy in life and not to cry like they do now in Ukraine," he said.

"We are fighting here, not only in Ukraine but here on the sporting stage."

Iaroslav Reshetynskyi and Oleksandr Kazik followed Lukyanenko, Kovalevskyi and Suiarko as Ukrainian athletes secured the top five positions in the race. 

It was Ukraine’s third para biathlon podium sweep at the Beijing Paralympics after Lukyanenko, Kazik and Suiarko secured the top three spots in the men's vision impaired sprint on Saturday. Ukraine so far has 6 gold medals at the Games, two behind China.

5:39 a.m. ET, March 8, 2022

Sumy evacuation corridor underway, say Ukrainian authorities

From Tim Lister and Olga Voitovych

Ukrainian officials say the planned evacuation route to help civilians leave the northeastern city of Sumy, which has experienced sustained Russian attacks and airstrikes in recent days, is now operating.

The corridor is between Sumy and the Ukrainian city of Poltava -- a journey of just under 100 miles.

"This route has been agreed by the Ukrainian and Russian sides," Dmytro Lunin, head of the Poltava regional administration, said on his Telegram channel.

"The ceasefire regime is from 09:00 till 21:00 Kyiv time. Ukraine adheres to it," he said.

Lunin added that several dozen buses have already left Lokhvytsia, a city southwest of Sumy, to pick up civilians, and that 20 tons of humanitarian aid, including food and medicine, has also been sent.

"We will welcome people, feed them," Lunin said. "We are evacuating civilians, including foreign students. After they will go to the west of the country. Humanitarian aid should also arrive in Sumy through this humanitarian corridor -- food and medicine."

Some background: The announcement of an evacuation corridor in Sumy comes after a Russian airstrike on an apartment building in the city killed nine civilians, including two children, according to the State Emergency Services (SES) in Ukraine.

On Monday, Ukrainian officials rejected Russia's unilateral proposal for evacuation corridors for civilians as an unacceptable non-starter, as most of the routes lead to Russia or its staunch ally Belarus and would require people to travel through active areas of fighting.

Several previous attempts to evacuate civilians failed earlier this week, with Western leaders accusing Russian forces of continuing to target pre-approved safe routes.

On Sunday, a Russian strike hit an evacuation crossing point outside Kyiv, killing eight people including two children trying to flee.

Read more:

4:50 a.m. ET, March 8, 2022

"Irpin can't be bought, Irpin fights": Mayor refuses Russian demand to surrender

From's Tim Lister and Olga Voitovych

Oleksandr Markushyn, the mayor of the Kyiv suburb of Irpin, says he has rejected a demand from Russian forces to surrender the town.

In a Telegram account on Tuesday, Markushyn said he had received a threat on his "life and health and demanding for the complete surrender of Irpin" the previous day.

"I'm surprised that these monsters still haven't understood -- Irpin doesn't give up, Irpin can't be bought, Irpin fights!" he said.

"I have a counter-offer to the occupiers to leave [the] Irpin community within 24 hours and save the lives and health of several thousand Russian conscripts, whose mother, sister, daughter, grandmother and partner are waiting for them at home."

The Russians declared a ceasefire for the Kyiv area on Tuesday. It's unclear yet whether a cessation of hostilities is being held around the Ukrainian capital.

The UK defense ministry on Monday accused Russian forces of targeting evacuation corridors and killing “several civilians” trying to evacuate Irpin, according to the latest intelligence assessment released publicly by the department.

The ministry noted that due to heavy fighting Irpin has been without heat, water, or electricity for several days.

Eight civilians were killed in the midst of an evacuation of the town, Mayor Markushyn said in a statement on Telegram Sunday.